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Visas Needed for Travelling between the US and Europe

The number of people who travel between the US and Europe every year is in the millions. However, there is a big number of who would like to go to the US and vice versa but have no sufficient information about what they need to travel.

The issue of a travel visa is a concern for many travelers: many first-time travelers don’t know which visa to apply for and which visa is best their travel needs.

For passport holders in the UK and countries that belong to the European Union the process is somewhat simpler.

And for US citizens, what confuses US travelers are the bureaucracies involved surrounding Europe’s “Schengen Zone” and the rest of Europe.

So, what US citizens need when coming to Europe and what do European travelers need when going to the US?

US Citizens Travelling to Europe

For US citizens, a visa is not required for trips to most European countries such as the UK, Switzerland as well the 26 members of the “Schengen” zone.

As long as you have a valid passport, you can visit most European countries without having to apply for a visa. But this is only allowed if your trip is less than 90 days. So, for example, if you are going for a short touristic or business trip to London or any other city within the “Schengen “areas, you don’t need to obtain a visa.

However, free entry to Europe for US citizens is going to stop from 1st January 2021 when the European Union will introduce the ETIAS visa exemption system, which stands for European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS guide here). This is an electronic document that will help the EU to track citizens from countries such as the US but that does not require a formal visa.

What US Citizens Need to Enter Europe

Although US citizens do not need an EU visa, there are some documents or ‘proof’ that the immigration officer will ask for:

  • A valid US passport that is not older than 10 years. The passport must also be at least 3 months beyond the intended date of departure from Europe.
  • Evidence regarding your purpose of entry.
  • Proof of sufficient financial resources (showing a couple of credit cards is all you need to show here).

Limited Entry for Foreign Nationals Residing in the US

Not everyone residing in the US can enter Europe without a visa. US residents of other nationalities wishing to visit Europe may need to apply for the UK or Schengen visa depending on their nationality. If you come from a nationality that has not established a visa-free regime, then you will need to apply for a Schengen visa in the US.

Visa Required for More Than 90 Days Stay in Europe

If you are planning to stay in a UK or European country for more than 90 days, then you will have to apply for a formal visa.

Note that each country will have their own visa requirements and application process since this is not harmonized across the European Union at this time.

For example, if you are planning to work in Europe, you will be required to apply for a work visa. If on the other hand, you are coming to Europe to study, you will have to apply for a student visa and normally, the academic institution should help you with this.

Irrespective of the type of visa, most countries require you to prove that you have the financial capability to live in Europe.

European Citizens Travelling to the US

United States has a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which enable citizens from European and other countries to travel to the US without obtaining a US visa. However, this exemption is for people travelling to the US for short business or tourism trips of not more than 90 days.

What you need for this short trip is an ESTA visa, which stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. For those travelling for the US for the first time, this guide to ESTA has everything you need to know.

Requirements for obtaining an ESTA visa exemption

First, you must be a citizen of an eligible country that is included in the US’ visa waiver program. Second, your travel is limited for up to90 days, and your reason for travelling to the US must be business (such as business meetings, conferences and so on) or pleasure. Here is what you need to complete the process:

  • Valid passport from a VWP country
  • Provide your contact information
  • Supply your most recent employment information (this may not apply)
  • Pay the official fee of $14 via the official ESTA website or if you want a personalised and guaranteed service, you can use a third-party service like this one:

However, it is important to mention that not everyone from VWP countries qualifies to travel to the US with ESTA. There are personal circumstances that may require you get a formal US visa. Here are some of the circumstances that may apply:

  • If you have travelled countries like Somalia, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Iraq and Syria on or after March1, 2011.
  • If you are a dual citizen of a country associated with terrorism such as those mentioned above.
  • You’ve been denied ESTA or US visa in the past.
  • You overstayed in the previous visit.

Visa Required for More Than 90 Days Stay in the US

If you are planning to become a US citizen, you can apply for permanent residency. Those going to the US for work should apply for a work visa. For the work visa, there are various categories depending on your skills level. And of course, for students planning to study for more than 90 days will also require a special visa.

Just like most countries, the US visa system is complex and so it’s highly recommended that you seek external and specialized help to deal with all the bureaucracy involved.


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